Functional foods, such as fiber or probiotics, are gaining momentum in consumer packaged goods.
How can the baking industry utilize the functional powerhouse of prebiotics, probiotics and fiber?
Functional foods are gaining momentum in consumer packaged goods. The latest ads on television promote the healthy benefits of fiber, prebiotics and probiotics. After more than 10 years of marketing, consumers understand the benefits of ingesting fiber and bacteria. So, what are the benefits, and how can those of us in the baking industry utilize this trend?
Fiber refers to indigestible components found in plant foods like legumes, beans, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate whose role is to keep our digestive system healthy (Hensel, 2016). Fiber can be classified into three main categories, each of which has different health benefits and functions in the body. The first category is soluble fiber; its role is to slow the emptying process in our stomachs, lowering cholesterol and stabilizing the glucose levels in our blood. This type of fiber helps us feel fuller.
The second class of fiber, known as insoluble fiber, has the role of absorbing water. Insoluble fiber also helps us feel full, but its main benefit is to soften the contents of our bowels and support movements of the bowel. In this way, it helps to maintain a healthy bowel environment. The third class of fiber is called resistant starch, which moves through the small intestines without being digested. The resistant starch fibers move to the colon, where they contribute to bowel health by assisting in the production of good bacteria (Augusti, 2009).
Prebiotics are also a type of fiber gaining attention in the market for functional foods. All prebiotics are fibers, but not all fibers are prebiotics. Prebiotic fiber comes from plants such as Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, onions, whole grains, bananas and garlic. According to one study, “prebiotic fibers have the ability to enhance the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA), improve anti-inflammatory activity, and strengthen the gut barrier function” (Hansel, 2016). Prebiotics have the potential to add functional benefits to baked goods, because they do not degrade as easily as probiotics do when exposed to industrial manufacturing processes.
Probiotics are the darlings of the functional foods industry. They appear in everything from traditional yogurts to cookies and soda. Probiotics are considered beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures that aid in digestion and a healthy intestinal environment. You may already be familiar with these cultures as they are used in the pre-fermentation phase for sponges and sourdough starters. Over 50 species of lactic acid bacteria have been found in sourdough starters.
Unfortunately, the heat involved in baking can result in significant losses in probiotic viability during the manufacture and storage of breads and baked goods. Probiotic Bacillus subtilis R0179 shows some promise, as early studies have demonstrated that the strain remains stable under industrial production processes such as baking, freezing, and extrusion. Other alternatives for fortifying foods with probiotics are encapsulation and functional coatings that can be sprayed onto baked bread (Vitaglione, et al., 2015; Dutra et al., 2016). Alternatively, many bakeries have incorporated beneficial bacteria in cream fillings or icing-type coatings as a way to gain a share of the functional food market.
Food scientists and researchers have more testing ahead to provide the baking industry with a probiotic strain that can survive the rigors of baking. At this point, fiber-rich prebiotic baked goods are possible. We know bread is a perfect vehicle for providing a diet rich in fiber. Add a topping rich in probiotics and a base with abundant fiber/prebiotics, and you have a recipe for a health-beneficial baked good.